Career Women ready to connect again

Angie Tejeda

Like others participating in the Wichita Business Journal’s upcoming Career Women program, Veronica Stuart says she’s looking forward to surrounding herself again with like-minded professional women.

It’s why she decided to return to the program this year after going through a virtual version in 2020.

“After this past year and a half, just having some girl time, just talking face to face with people β€” whether it gets me somewhere I need to be in my next venture, or I just make a new friend, it’s always good to have those connections and those bonds,” said Stuart, who is the office manager at her family’s company, Stuart & Associates Commercial Flooring.

After switching to virtual meetings last year during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Career Women program will make its return beginning later this month with weekly in-person roundtable discussions that are designed to help women professionals in Wichita make new connections and develop their careers.

WBJ publisher John Ek said the meet-ups will follow the latest local health guidelines and recommendations, but that it was important to bring back in-person gatherings in a safe manner.

“We conducted four events at the Hyatt in July and August, and based on our attendance and what people are telling me, people are ready to gather, ready to network, ready to spend time together again,” Ek said.

About 60 women will participate in Career Women this year, with 10 to 12 attending each roundtable. This time it will be a year-long program instead of running for six months.

“We started Career Women a few years ago as it seemed like the next step in our mission to help grow and advance women in the Wichita-area workplace,” Ek said. “Career Women is more intimate than the other things we do, and this year we will bring community leaders into some of those roundtables. We also hold some social events that allow less formal networking.”

Some of the Career Women, like Stuart, will be repeat participants.

But this time around, Stuart said she has a new venture on her mind that combines two passions β€” her family’s flooring business and foster care. Now having fostered three children, Stuart said she plans to start a nonprofit that donates new flooring to foster families who have children coming and going from their homes.

And she’s hoping the Career Women program might be the spark that takes her idea to the next level.

“You just never know who somebody knows who can help you,” Stuart said. “Word of mouth gets you so far. So if I have other strong women that believe as much as I do in this, we could really open doors and get my foot somewhere that I don’t even know I need to be at yet.”

Angie Tejeda is also looking to make new connections with other women professionals across a range of industries.

Since she started her financial planning firm, Tejeda Financial, 15 years ago, Tejeda says she’s become an advocate for helping women navigate their finances in a field traditionally led by men.

“I think women are underserved,” she said. “When they find me, they come in and they feel so comfortable…. When I saw there was a group with other professional women, I really don’t know anything about this program, but I jumped and just said yes.”

Alissa Huibsch, another participant new to the Career Women program, also comes from a male-dominated field. Huibsch came back to Wichita in 2013 from California to help run her family’s steel fabrication company, Metal Arts. She’s now vice president of operations and project manager.

“I was realizing this last year or so that I didn’t have anymore mentors in my life, and I was lacking that, so I was other people’s mentor, but I myself didn’t have anyone to connect with and bounce ideas off of outside of here,” Huibsch said. “And Metal Arts, it’s in the construction industry, so it’s more heavily male dominated.”

Now that she’s in an executive role at Metal Arts, Huibsch said she’s looking to build her leadership skills and learn how to better balance work life and home life, which have increasingly become blurred in the era of remote and hybrid workplaces.

“I just want to make sure I’m doing the best I can for everybody, including myself, and what does that truly mean?” she said. “And I don’t know if I have that answer yet, but that’s what I’m hoping to get.”

Career Women combines not only a mix of industries, but the cohort is also made up of women at varying stages of their careers. Some are just starting out. Some are veterans in their field.

Terri Rice, who’s been a marketing and research professional for 25 years in Wichita, says you’re never too far along in your career to learn something new. She’s also a returning Career Women participant.

“I’m all about growing, developing, you can never stop educating yourself,” said Rice, who is senior marketing manager at Cox Business. “That was a big thing for me, wanting to hear from like-minded women, hear their story, how they have evolved in their contribution to the workplace, to the community and the customers that they serve.”

Original article written by Shelby Kellerman, reporter for the Wichita Business Journal.